My muffin experiments have coincided with my obsession with whole grains. Aside from the health benefits of whole grains, which have high fiber and protein, whole grains taste good, especially in breads and muffins.
At the moment, amaranth rules my muffin world. The ancient whole grain, native to the Americas and once prized by Aztecs, adds a remarkable moistness and lightness to muffins. The grain, when cooked and stirred into the batter, softens the dough giving it a spongy quality while amaranth flour lightens it, adding an airiness.
I make these in advance for the week, store them in the fridge, and then reheat them in the morning on a panini grill (the single best way to reheat a muffin). Since I munch on them daily for breakfast and like a healthier alternative to the standard sugar-packed muffin, I limit the sugar in this recipe and serve them with a drizzle of raw honey. If you like a sweeter muffin, add another quarter cup of turbinado sugar.
Whole Wheat Amaranth Blueberry Muffins with Cinnamon and Walnuts
1 cup milk
1/3 cup amaranth grain, cooked (one part amaranth to three parts water)*
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
4 tablespoons of coconut oil
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour (I like Arrowhead Mills organic stone ground whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup amaranth flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon Madagascar vanilla bean paste (use vanilla extract if you can't find the paste)
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 ounces blueberries
½ cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the amaranth grain according to the instructions on the package. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
In a large mixing or KitchenAid bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. If using a KitchenAid, mix with a paddle attachment. If using a mixing bowl, use a hand blender. Blend in the cooled amaranth grain and the coconut oil (if the oil is solid, warm it for 10 seconds in the microwave so it's liquid and room temperature).
In a separate bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, amaranth flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt, and mix well, making sure there are no clumps of baking powder.
Slowly blend the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until mixed through. Do not over mix; this can result in a denser muffin. Blend in the blueberries and walnuts. Grease a 12-muffin tin with butter or canola oil spray. Divide batter into a muffin tin and bake for 25 minutes.
*The amaranth grain takes about 20 minutes to cook. You can cool it quickly but spreading it on a plate and putting it in the freezer for a few minutes, then adding it to the batter.
After a week of tight deadlines, doctors appointments, bills, and last minute travel preparations, I needed good food to restore me. Even more: good wine, a nice steep pour. You know the kind of week?
This is my go-to dish to return to center state. It’s healthy enough to make me feel virtuous and rich enough to serve as an indulgence. It’s also wine-friendly and pairs well with anything from pinot noir to Cotes du Rhone and Corbières.
I use wild caught coho or sockeye cut from the tail, which has no discernible bones, eliminating extra work. Wild caught salmon offers cleaner, richer flavor than its farmed counterparts, not to mention more nutrients and omega-3s.
Broiling the salmon, skin up, produces a deliciously crispy skin that Paul and I call “salmon bacon” (it's THAT good). Topped with tomato-caper vinaigrette and served over pancetta-braised lentils, the cumin-rubbed salmon shines.
I’ve been making it for years, without variation, and am amazed every time how good it is and how it centers me after a long, stressful week.
Crispy Cumin Salmon and Braised Lentils with Tomato-Caper Vinaigrette
Crispy cumin salmon
3/4 pound wild caught salmon, cut from the tail
2 tablespoons dried cumin
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons high-heat cooking oil such as canola or grapeseed
2 wedges of lemon or fresh lemon juice (to serve)
Score the salmon skin with a sharp knife, making diagonal cuts about an inch apart. Mix the cumin and a generous amount of salt and pepper with the oil to form a paste. Place the salmon on a broiler pan and slather the paste on both sides so it coats the salmon evenly. Place the salmon, skin up, under a broiler (above the middle mark of your oven but not too close to the flame) with the thickest part of the salmon under the flame. Broil for 6 – 7 minutes or until the skin is golden brown and crisp.
1/2 cup Puy lentils
2-1/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely diced
1 small celery stalk, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 slices pancetta or 1 slice of bacon, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the garlic, onions, carrots, and celery and sauté about 3 – 4 minutes. Add lentils and chicken stock. Season generously with salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 – 35 minutes until the lentils are soft. Taste to adjust seasoning again before serving.
3 vine-ripened tomatoes, cored, seeded, and diced
1/2 red onion, diced
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons walnut oil (I prefer Spectrum brand; it has a simple, clean flavor)
4 – 5 sprigs of thyme, stems removed
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients, mix well, and set aside.
Spoon the lentils onto two plates. Slice the salmon into two pieces and place over the lentils. Top with tomato-caper vinaigrette. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top or serve with a wedge of lemon on the side. Top the dish with a sprig or two of fresh thyme.
Spicy, fatty North African Merugez lamb sausage combined with caramelized onions, Bel Paese (semi-soft Italian cheese), mint pesto, and crispy kale, create a gobsmackingly good pizza.
I first posted a photo of this pizza on Facebook where it got several thumbs up, including one that came with a caveat: “but for the kale,” this person wrote. “I know it’s good for you but…” I get it. I might have said the same thing a few years back. After several attempts at a number of preparations, I finally learned to transform the tough, leafy green into some surprisingly tasty dishes, and I’m not turning back. When kale is good, it’s really good.
Oven-baked kale is one of my favorite preparations. If you roast it with oil, salt, and pepper, it crisps up nicely and tastes more like a potato chip. The slightly bitter flavor provides a nice counterpoint to the Merguez sausage, a combo that came to me while staring at my computer screen at the office, wishing I were in the kitchen instead of editing documents. I’ve been combining these flavors in various ways for several months now and the pizza seemed like a natural progression. I scribbled it down on a notepad and saved it for the weekend (despite how simple it looks, it does take some time to prepare). The experiment, partly improvised on the fly, proved so flavorful, I had to memorialize it on the blog so I could remember it for next time.
Merguez Lamb Sausage Pizza with Mint Pesto, Caramelized Onions, and Crispy Kale
1 whole wheat pizza dough recipe, below (or dough recipe of your choice)
1 mint pesto recipe, below
1 crispy kale recipe, below
2 links Merguez lamb sausage, casings removed, sautéed for 8 – 10 minutes, and then drained of excess fat
5 ounces or so of Bel Paese cheese, diced
1 red onion, thinly sliced and slowly cooked on low heat for 35 – 40 minutes
3 – 4 heirloom tomatoes (enough to cover the pizza), thinly sliced
½ cup balsamic vinegar, reduced in saucepan until it becomes a syrup
Whole wheat pizza dough
1 packet dry yeast
1-1/2 - 1-3/4 cups whole wheat flour (plus more for kneading)*
1/2 - 3/4 cup warm water (120 – 130 degrees)*
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
*Start with the minimum amounts, then add and adjust until your dough is smooth and firm, not sticky.
In a food processor, blend the dry ingredients. Then, slowly drizzle in the water and the oil until the dough starts to form a ball. Empty the dough onto a floured cutting board and knead for three minutes, sprinkling in more flour on the dough if it's sticky (you want a nice smooth texture that does not stick to your hand or the board). Grease a bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for one hour. Once risen, knead for another 3 – 5 minutes, then roll out onto a pizza stone or cast iron pizza pan greased with olive oil. I love the pure whole wheat flour but if you like a more traditional pizza dough, add half whole wheat, half all-purpose or use an all-purpose recipe of your choice!
1 cup mint leaves
3/4 cup parsley leaves
1 small chunk (about 2 tablespoons) parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of pine nuts
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients except for the oil and salt and pepper in a food processor. While blending, pour in the oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
1 bunch of kale, washed, stems removed, and sliced into strips
3 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine kale, oil, and salt and pepper. On a baking sheet, spread out in an even layer so the kale does not overlap. Bake for 30 minutes or until the kale is crispy and slightly browned.
Assembling the Pizza
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Roll out the dough onto a cast iron pizza pan greased with olive oil. Top the dough with slices of heirloom tomato, seasoned with salt and pepper. Bake for 7 minutes. Add the Bel Paese cheese, caramelized onions, and sausage. Bake for another 7 minutes. Top with a drizzle of mint pesto, crispy kale, and the finest drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.
Oh, and P.S., my flash of inspiration coincided with National Pizza Month! How cool is that?
I was always the last kid to leave the lunchroom. After the other kids piled up their lunch trays and ran to the playground, I would spoon lime Jell-O into my mouth, sliver by sliver, until it was gone. I think the cafeteria ladies felt bad for me but I didn't care. I liked the way Jell-O dissolved on my tongue and how I could make each bite smaller than the last and still have a lot of flavor in my mouth.
This kid never changed. I still enjoy lingering over sweets. Rice pudding with aromatic spices has the same effect on me. It's deliciously rich and time-consuming to make, which makes it worth lingering over.
There are endless variations of rice pudding. I like semi-sweet rice pudding with fragrant spices cooked on the stovetop. Here’s my version, inspired from a Saveur recipe, which uses basmati rice. My creamy Arborio version adjusts the amount of milk and adds vanilla bean, black peppercorns (just a hint of heat!), and finishes with a touch of sweet, raw honey.
Rice Pudding with Cardamom, Pistachio, and Rose Water
Serves 2 hungry adults for breakfast or 4 for dessert
4 cups of milk
1/3 cup Arborio rice, rinsed
2 tablespoons sugar
6 cardamom pods
2 vanilla beans
4 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon rose water
2 tablespoons pistachios, toasted
Raw honey, to drizzle on top
Place the rice, milk, cardamom pods, vanilla beans, and black peppercorns in a sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer on low heat, stirring once every 2 – 3 minutes for about 35 minutes. With a small strainer, scoop out the cardamom pods and peppercorns when the mixture is still milky. Add half of the pistachios.
Continue stirring until the mixture thickens to a pudding. Served chilled or warm, straight from the sauce pan. Sprinkle the remaining pistachios and drizzle the honey on top to serve.
In my home town of Portland, Oregon, breakfast is a big social occasion. On weekend mornings, the popular breakfast eateries sport lines out the door. Nearly every one, including one of my long-time favorites, Cup and Saucer, features oatmeal on the menu.
When I moved to the East Coast, old-fashioned oats were, well, just old-fashioned. I longed for those Portland breakfast spots proudly offering up good, hearty bowls of oatmeal.
I first tried baked oatmeal in Alaska, a place even heartier and more staple-oriented than Oregon. I ordered it at a small little breakfast café in Ketchikan. The waitress brought the dish to my table steaming hot and crispy golden on top and served it with a small pitcher of cold milk. Sweet, crunchy, and soft in the center, it was delicious. Here’s my version. Enjoy!
Baked Blueberry Oatmeal
2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups milk
1 pint blueberries
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup real maple syrup
1 tablespoon refined coconut oil (for medium-high cooking up to 360 degrees) or melted butter
Preheat the oven to 360 degrees (many conventional ovens are not set properly; always test the heat with a heat thermometer and adjust accordingly). In a glass 8 x 8 inch baking dish, fork-whisk the dry ingredients together: oatmeal, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and baking powder. Then stir in the milk, egg, maple syrup, blueberries, and coconut oil.
Bake for 45 minutes to one hour until all the liquid has been absorbed and it’s golden brown on top. Serve piping hot with cold milk (I love vanilla almond milk) and extra maple syrup if you like it sweeter. Drink coffee, and have seconds!